Check out CELP’s February edition of Washington Water Watch! In this issue: an update on water legislation making its way through the State Legislature, an article on the Grays-Elochoman & Cowlitz watersheds, and updates on our upcoming events.
Read the February issue of Water Watch here.
Check out the latest edition of our monthly newsletter, Washington Water Watch. In this month’s issue you’ll find an article on the current water bills in the Washington State legislature, an update on CELP’s recent motion for summary judgment in the Leavenworth National fish hatchery case, an article on the Lyre-Hoko watershed, and a notice about our upcoming Spokane event, Winter Waters.
October 25, 2016
Dan Von Seggern (Center for Environmental Law & Policy)
Court Upholds Dungeness Instream Flow Rule that protects river and fish!
Seattle, WA – On Friday, October 21, 2016, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor upheld the Instream Flow Rule for the Dungeness River basin, denying a challenge from a group of property owners and developers. The Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP) intervened in this matter to defend the Rule, working with the Department of Ecology. CELP Staff Attorney Dan Von Seggern argued the case along with Ecology’s attorneys. After the decision, he stated: “This is a win for the environment and for water management in Washington. The Dungeness Rule strikes a balance by protecting streamflows, fish, and senior water users, while still providing water for responsible development. CELP is pleased with Judge Tabor’s decision and hope that this Rule will provide a guide to protecting other rivers in our state.”
In upholding the Rule, Judge Tabor held that the Rule was not unlawful and that Ecology did not exceed its authority when it adopted the Rule. He also reaffirmed that permit-exempt wells are subject to the “first-in-time” system of water appropriations used in Washington.
The Dungeness River is home to steelhead, bull trout, and four salmon species. Most of these fish are listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Low river flows, particularly in summer and early fall, block upstream migration of spawning salmon and risk causing extinction of these fish. Historically, much of the River’s flow has been diverted for irrigation, although irrigators have agreed to limit withdrawals to no more than one-half of the river’s summer flow. Uncontrolled development using private (“permit-exempt”) wells further depleted streamflows and added to the pressure on fish populations. The Dungeness Rule protects instream flows that are needed to support salmon populations and other instream values, while allowing new residential development through mitigated use of water from permit-exempt wells.
The Dungeness watershed is in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains and is unique in the Northwest as the only coastal watershed that is dry enough to require irrigation for agricultural crops. The River is relatively short, flowing 32 miles from the Olympic Mountains to the Strait. It is used by chinook, coho, chum, and pink salmon as well as steelhead, cutthroat, and bull trout. All salmon stocks are depressed relative to historic levels, and chinook, chum salmon and bull trout are listed as Threatened under the ESA. Insufficient stream flow has been identified as a key cause of reduced fish levels.
The Dungeness Rule was developed over a 20-year period through a collaborative process that included state, local, and Tribal governments, property owners, environmental groups, and water users. “This rule is an example of how rules can be set to make sure water resources in the rivers and streams are protected,” said Trish Rolfe, CELP’s Executive Director.
Water for development is provided through a water bank, which ensures that streamflows are not depleted by water for development. Amanda Cronin of Washington Water Trust explains that the Dungeness Water Exchange “provides an efficient one-stop shop for individual home builders in the Dungeness Valley. Eligible homebuilders simply begin the building permit process at the County and then submit a mitigation application and one-time payment to the Exchange.”
Judge Tabor ruled from the bench and a written decision is expected in the coming weeks. The case is Bassett et al. v. Ecology, Thurston County case No. 14-2-02466-2.
News Release – August 17, 2016
Dept of Ecology must redo permit for Spokane County’s Wastewater Treatment Facility consistent with water quality laws
- Rachael Paschal Osborn (Sierra Club) 509.954-5641 email@example.com
- Dan Von Seggern (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) 206.829-8299 firstname.lastname@example.org
Spokane – On August 16, the Washington State Court of Appeals issued the third legal decision in favor of Spokane River advocates seeking to stop more PCBs from being added to the Spokane River from the Spokane County’s wastewater treatment facility. Three courts have now ruled that the Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) failed to do what the law requires: analyze whether the County’s discharge of PCBs has potential to violate state water quality standards, and if so, then impose appropriate limits to prevent such violations. The Appeals Court left intact an earlier ruling that the Spokane River Toxics Task Force is not an adequate or legal substitute for pollution control limits.
Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) filed the lawsuit against Ecology in 2011, and praised the Court’s ruling. “The Court decision is another important step to clean up PCBs polluting the Spokane River,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, with Sierra Club and CELP.
In rejecting the appeal by Ecology and Spokane County, the Appeals Court stands with earlier decisions that, because the 2011 permit lacks any limit on PCB discharges, it violates the Clean Water Act, and that other terms of the permit are vague and unenforceable. The Board remanded the permit back to Ecology to do over.
The Spokane River is among Washington State’s most contaminated river for PCBs. Exposure to PCBs through ingestion of Spokane River fish represents a public health hazard. In 2008, the Washington State Department of Health issued fish consumption advisories, recommending limited or no consumption of fish from Lake Roosevelt and the Spokane River.
In 2011, Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group and CELP filed this suit and a companion lawsuit in federal court to compel Washington State and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to uphold water quality laws for the Spokane River. The Spokane Tribe intervened in support of the federal lawsuit. In that case, a Seattle federal judge ruled that EPA was wrong not to require the Washington State to prepare a clean-up plan for Spokane River PCBs.
“The Clean Water Act requires the Department of Ecology to protect our public waters by evaluating a new facility’s potential for pollution and placing appropriate limits on discharges,” said Dan Von Seggern, staff attorney with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Here, the court affirmed that Ecology must evaluate and limit PCB discharges from Spokane County’s wastewater treatment facility. This ruling is an important step in reducing PCB pollution in the Spokane River.”
Sierra Club and CELP are represented by attorney Richard Smith of Smith & Lowney PLLC.
More on the 2013 ruling upheld by state courts
The state’s pollution court, the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) ruled that the Toxics Management Program in Ecology’s 2011 permit “is “confusing, vague, and lacks definition of key terms. More importantly, it lacks deadlines by which Spokane County is to undertake and/or complete actions to reduce PCBs in influent to the facility. It lacks mandatory language requiring Spokane County to actually undertake necessary actions to achieve reductions in PCBs in both influent and effluent. . . . [R]ather than requiring Spokane County to meet water quality standards, the [Toxics Management Program] only asks that the County take steps so that ‘in time the effluent does not contribute to PCBs in the Spokane River exceeding applicable water quality standards.’ . . . The Permit must require Spokane County to comply with water quality standards . . . .”” (Paragraph 13, p 23-24) This requirement will need to include compliance with the Spokane Tribe’s downstream water quality standards that were adopted by the Tribe and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2003.
Additionally, the Board ruled that the Regional Toxics Task Force fails “to require that “goals be achieved by a specified date. Nor does [this permit condition] establish an objective standard against which its accomplishments can be measured . . . . [The Toxics Task Force permit condition] does not impose any restrictions on quantities, rates, and concentrations of PCBs being discharged from point sources into the Spokane River. While the Board finds that the creation of the Task Force is a positive step toward bring the Spokane River into compliance with water quality standards for PCBs, it is uncertain that the Task Force will achieve any of its stated goals or achieve a measurable reduction in the discharge of PCBs. . . . Ecology is directed on remand to modify the [Toxics Task Force permit condition] to make clear that compliance with the Permit’s requirements take precedence over the work of the Task Force.”” (Paragraph 17, pp 26-27)
In this month’s issue of Water Watch, read an update on the Enloe case, a background of the Chehalis watershed and recommendations, articles on the H2KNOW Cammpaign, Ecology’s draft CAFO permit, and an introduction of our Summer 2016 Legal Intern. In addition, learn more about CELP’s special Summer Membership special!
News Release – June 6, 2016
EPA challenged over failures to clean up Spokane River PCB pollution
- Rachael Paschal Osborn (Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy) 509.954-5641 email@example.com
- Richard Smith (Smith & Lowney, PLLC) 206.860-2124 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dan Von Seggern (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) 206.829-8299 email@example.com
- Ted Knight (Spokane Tribe of Indians) 509.953-1908 firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week in U.S. District Court, Spokane River advocates challenged as inadequate an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to remove the industrial pollutants known as PCBs from the Spokane River. They hope for a ruling that will end decades of foot-dragging and produce a reasonable, expeditious cleanup plan for the river.
“We are looking forward to showing Judge Barbara Rothstein how the EPA’s plan for PCBs in the Spokane River would frustrate and counter the letter and intent of the Clean Water Act,” said Richard Smith, Clean Water Act attorney representing Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP). “EPA’s excuses for not calling for a cleanup plan on a reasonable and expeditious timeline are just that – excuses, and we think the judge will see that.”
The federal Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, requires that polluted waters be cleaned up so that they are fishable and swimmable. Forty-four years later, the Spokane River still does not have a cleanup plan for PCBs.
On April 5 the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal filed by Spokane County, Kaiser Aluminum Washington, LLC, and the State of Washington Department of Ecology (State Ecology). The Ninth Circuit decision lets stand the U.S. District Court’s ruling that the EPA cannot substitute the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force, a polluter-dominated committee process, for a cleanup plan with enforceable targets for Spokane River PCBs.
This case is important because the heavily used Spokane River flows through the second-most populated area in Washington State and is contaminated with PCBs, is an example of the failure of state and federal agencies to fulfill trust duties to protect the state’s waters, and involves the first-ever water quality standards based on fish consumption by humans in Washington State (adopted by the Spokane Tribe of Indians).
“River polluters control the Toxics Task Force that is using a ‘consensus process’ to write a plan to dodge the clean water law,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn of Sierra Club and CELP. “Does anyone seriously believe the polluters will impose expensive treatment requirements on themselves? This is why EPA must step in and prepare a plan with binding cleanup targets that actually protects the Spokane River.”
More about PCBs, and the legal case to clean up the Spokane River
The Spokane River is heavily polluted with PCBs. The federal Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, requires that polluted waters be cleaned up so that they are fishable and swimmable. Forty-four years later, in 2016, the Spokane River still does not have the cleanup plan for PCBs required by the Clean Water Act.
PCBs are a group of industrial compounds associated with liver dysfunction and cancer, and are now banned in the United States. Washington State formally recognizes that the Spokane River is impaired for PCBs. When a river is listed for PCBs, the federal Clean Water Act requires binding cleanup targets before issuing any permits that would add more PCBs to the Spokane River. Such a cleanup plan has never been completed for the Spokane River, but state and federal agencies have issued pollution permits anyway, failing to include numeric limits. Ecology is due to renew those permits this year, but the agency is not expected to include numeric limits for toxics.
In 2011, the Washington Department of Ecology abandoned efforts to adopt a PCB cleanup plan, largely because of political opposition by Spokane River polluters, who would be required to reduce PCBs in effluent by up to 99% to meet both Washington State and Spokane Tribe water quality standards. These polluters include Inland Empire Paper, Kaiser, and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane sewage treatment plants. Instead, Ecology formed the Spokane River Toxics Task Force and required the polluters to participate, but also gave them control over the goals and activities of the Task Force.
Subsequently EPA issued discharge permits to three Idaho dischargers – the City of Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden Water & Sewer District – also not requiring PCB limits and also requiring participation in the Toxics Task Force.
Sierra Club & CELP filed a citizen lawsuit against EPA in 2011. The Spokane Tribe of Indians intervened in support of the citizen lawsuit, and the Department of Ecology, Spokane County and Kaiser intervened to defend EPA. U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled in March 2015 that EPA’s failure to require a clean-up plan was an abuse of discretion and ordered EPA to submit a plan to the Court by July 2015.
EPA, Ecology, Kaiser, and Spokane County appealed the ruling, but EPA withdrew its appeal and submitted a document (which fails to require a cleanup plan) to the District Court. On April 5, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Ecology-County-Kaiser appeal in a one-paragraph decision. This means that a CELP-Sierra Club challenge to the EPA’s “non-cleanup plan” document will now move forward in District Court.
Last week, Spokane River advocates filed their objection with the federal judge, challenging EPA’s proposal. Meanwhile, Ecology is preparing to issue updated pollution permits to river dischargers in Washington State. The City of Spokane sued Monsanto Corporation because of the river’s PCB pollution.
Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Richard Smith and Marc Zemel of Smith & Lowney, a Seattle firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.
- Filing with Judge Rothstein: EPA’s plan inadequate (June 2, 2016)
- 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling (April 5, 2016)
- Federal Court ruling (October 24, 2014)
- PCB Cleanup Website (Sierra Club)
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Summer is coming! This month’s issue of Water Watch features information on our upcoming Celebrate Water event, an article on our letter to Governor Inslee about restoring higher flow requirements on the Spokane River, a “Love Letter to a River” by CELP member Pat Sumption, and an introduction to CELP’s newest board member, Jill F. Johnson.
Tuesday, May 31
- Andrea Rodgers (Western Environmental Law Center) (206) 696-2851, email@example.com
- John Roskelley (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) (509) 954-5653 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Thomas O’Keefe (American Whitewater) (425) 417-9012 email@example.com
- Tom Soeldner (Sierra Club, Upper Columbia River Group) 509.270-6995 firstname.lastname@example.org
Gov. Inslee has 45 days to decide whether to protect Spokane River flows
Citizens ask Gov. to reopen agency decision that ignored jobs, tourism, boaters, scenery
Spokane – Advocates for the Spokane River are asking Gov. Jay Inslee to grant their petition for protecting all instream values of the Spokane River, including recreational boating opportunities. This is the next step in the citizens’ quest to protect Spokane River flows. A petition was filed in February with the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), and rejected by the agency in April.
The groups are asking Gov. Inslee to protect jobs, the Spokane River, uphold the law, and avoid embroiling the state in more litigation regarding the Spokane River. Citizens’ letter to the Governor reads, in part:
We would like to make it clear that our goal in bringing this appeal to you is to reach an amicable agreement with Ecology to amend the Spokane River Instream Flow rule in a manner that takes into account and protects aesthetic and recreational values, while also protecting fish habitat. While we are simultaneously appealing Ecology’s decision to Thurston County Superior Court, we are required to do so to preserve our appeal rights pursuant to the Washington Administrative Procedure Act. Our hope is that you will be willing to resolve the issues raised in our appeal without the need for protracted litigation. We are asking that you direct the Department of Ecology to re-open the Spokane River Instream Flow Rule and reassess the minimum summer flows that are needed to protect and preserve recreational and aesthetic uses of the river. Because the Petitioners and Ecology agree that higher flows than those protected in the existing rule will not harm the fish, we believe that a mutually agreeable resolution is possible that is best for the Spokane River.
The Spokane River is a beloved urban river that flows through the second-largest city in Washington State, including spectacular waterfalls and a deep gorge. Conservationists seek a minimum summertime flow of 1,800 – 2,800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to support fisheries and recreation, and protect higher flows for recreation when available. Ecology set river flows at 850 cfs, far below typical summer low flows. This rule could effectively make every year a drought year for the Spokane River.
Nearly 2,000 comments, including boater surveys and scenic photographs, were submitted to Ecology during the public comment period on the draft rule. The state agency ignored overwhelming public support for protecting Spokane River flows and adopted low river flows that jeopardize the Spokane River and public uses.
The case has statewide significance because Ecology excluded recreation and outdoor recreation-based jobs from its analysis in setting river flows. Annual economic contributions of outdoor recreation to Washington’s economy are about $20.5 billion, supporting nearly 200,000 jobs. Washington’s natural resources should be managed to support outdoor recreation.
The governor has 45 days to respond to the citizens’ petition. Petitioners are Sierra Club, CELP, and American Whitewater, and are represented by attorneys Andrea Rodgers (Western Environmental Law Center) and Dan Von Seggern (Center for Environmental Law & Policy).
“We are asking Gov. Inslee for leadership to protect jobs and the people’s river,” said John Roskelley, kayaker, author, and vice president of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Last summer the whole community lived through drought and witnessed the Spokane River reduced to a trickle amid boulder fields. The state has a trust responsibility for our river, and an obligation to protect the state’s outdoor recreation economy.”
“Our city owes its origins, its beauty, and a great deal of its past and present life to the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner, co-chair of Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group based in Spokane. “It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows that also support outdoor recreation and jobs.”
“Excluding rafters, kayakers, and canoeists in setting flows sets a dangerous precedent for Washington State’s rivers,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director for American Whitewater “Our state’s river face many demands but ultimately we have a collective responsibility for the stewardship and protection of our state’s rivers, and Department of Ecology must protect the diversity of beneficial uses our rivers provide including recreation.”
“Gov. Inslee has expressed his commitment to encouraging outdoor recreation in the state of Washington and this petition to amend the Spokane River Instream Flow Rule gives him the opportunity to do just that,” said Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center. “We are asking the governor to ensure that recreational uses of the river are not only considered, but protected, as is required by law. The ball is in Gov. Inslee’s court to do what is right for the river so future generations of Washingtonians can recreate on the river for years to come.”
# # #
Center for Environmental Law & Policy
American Whitewater * North Cascades Conservation Council
News Advisory – April 19, 2016
- Andrea Rodgers (Western Environmental Law Center) email@example.com
- Dan Von Seggern (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) firstname.lastname@example.org
- Thomas O’Keefe (American Whitewater) email@example.com
When: Wednesday, April 20 at 9:30 a.m.
Where: Seattle – Washington State Court of Appeals, District 1; One Union Square, 600 University St.
What: Oral argument in a challenge to the Washington State Department of Ecology for issuing water rights that would nearly completely dewater a segment of the Similkameen River while burdening ratepayers with substantial costs.
Plaintiffs: Center for Environmental Law & Policy, American Whitewater, and North Cascades Conservation Council – members of the Hydropower Reform Coalition.
Defendants: Washington State Department of Ecology, Public Utility District No. 1 of Okanogan County, Washington, and Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board
Enloe Dam is a cement plug blocking the free-flowing Similkameen River in north central Washington State and British Columbia. The dam has not generated power since the 1950s, with prior efforts to re-energize the dam being rejected by regulators. The local Public Utility District, Okanogan PUD, once again proposes to electrify the old Enloe Dam, almost completely dewatering an important stretch of the river including Similkameen Falls in violation of Washington water law.
Economic studies, including one by the Okanogan PUD itself, conclude that the project would result in substantial financial losses. The economic risks increase when one considers the fact that the water rights to operate the project violate a forty-year-old regulation that protects instream flows for people and fish. If Okanogan PUD were to move forward, then they could spend millions of ratepayer dollars to build a project without water to operate it. Ratepayers in the Oroville area have vigorously opposed the PUD proposal for financial and other reasons.
Despite the fact that a legally required study to assess the impacts of the Project on aesthetic and recreational resources has not been completed, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) issued a water right to the PUD to divert water from the Similkameen River. River advocates challenged the State’s decision to exploit the public’s waters for an economic loser of a project. On Wednesday, Division 1 of the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case. The attorney for the river advocates is Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center.
On the PCHB (the Pollution Control Hearings Board or “Board”) correctly requiring an aesthetic analysis of dewatering a river — and then incorrectly approving water rights that would dewater the river:
“Ecology granted a water right for this project at the expense of bedrock principles of Washington water law,” said Andrea Rodgers the Western Environmental Law Center attorney representing the coalition groups. “In particular, the board ruled that it was not necessary to gather information about the aesthetic and recreational impacts of the project until after the hydro project is built. Ecology has put the cart before the horse and in doing so broke laws that protect our state’s precious water resources.”
On the importance of the Similkameen River to the people of Washington State:
“The Similkameen River is a valuable resource to the community for recreation, scenic values, and fish and wildlife. As with other rivers across the state, recognition of the importance of flows for aesthetic and recreational purposes is important to our organization. We will continue to press legal issues that protect the Similkameen River and Falls as multi-use public resource given the significance of this decision for rivers statewide,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director with American Whitewater.
On the statewide significance of this case:
“The water permitting process is designed to make sure that the public’s waters are allocated wisely and protected from over-exploitation. In this case, the Department of Ecology issued a permit that would remove nearly all water from this stretch of the river without ensuring that aesthetic and recreational values would be protected. The Enloe Dam appeal sends a message of statewide significance that the Department of Ecology must promote balanced use of Washington’s waterways,” said Dan Von Seggern with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy.